SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSLETTER!
 
 
Facebook Social Button Twitter Social Button Follow Us on InstagramYouTube Social Button Follow Me on Pinterest
NewsVideosLive ScoresTV ListingsTournamentsRankingsLucky Letcord PodcastMagazine


By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, September 16, 2020



All the world’s a stage.

Victoria Azarenka continues delivering peak performance against the world’s major players.

More: Ex-Coach Sues Dominic Thiem's Family

Three days after going the distance in the US Open final on New York’s blue hard court, Azarenka saved a set point topping Venus Williams 7-6(7), 6-2 on Rome's red clay.

It was Azarenka’s third straight match against a Grand Slam champion—she roared back to defeat Serena Williams in a three-set US Open semifinal before bowing to Naomi Osaka in the US Open final on Saturday—and sends her into her fourth consecutive clash vs. a major winner.

Next up for Azarenka is Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

Azarenka adapted an old-school approach to transition from the hard courts of the US Open bubble to red clay: play matches. 

"I think the best way to transition is to play matches," Azarenka said. "For me I know physically it’s quite challenging on your body. It’s quite challenging, but I wanted to do this. I knew I was gonna come no matter what.

"I'm very happy I did. There’s no better way to adapt than playing matches. Staying in the bubble is tough but you might as well commit to these few more weeks we have to the year and go home."

It was a day of primarily positive results for seeds.

Top-seeded Simona Halep converted eight of 10 break points and exploited seven double faults defeating Italian wild card Jasmine Paolini.

The 99th-ranked Paolini scored the first break for a 2-0 lead, but struggled to land her second serve on pivotal points as Halep tore through 12 of the final 14 points.



It is Halep's 10th straight win, including title runs in Dubai and Prague, and sends her into a round of 16 match vs. Dayana Yastremska

In a clash of two young hard-hitters, Yastremska stamped two love holds in her last three service games stopping Roland Garros semifinalist Amanda Anisimova 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-4.

Consider the degree of difficulty Azarenka faced today. Flying out of New York on Sunday, she had little turnaround time to adjust to the slower speed, higher bounce and more unstable feel of Rome’s red clay. And she was up against 1999 Rome champion Venus Williams, who carried a 6-2 lifetime edge over Azarenka, including a 6-3, 6-2 sweep in the Lexington first-round last month.

Master multi-tasker Azarenka took it all in stride battling through a high-quality first set and changing direction down the line shrewdly breaking in three of Williams’ last four service games.

"Obviously different surface was definitely challenging, but I feel like I adapted pretty well," Azarenka said. "I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew I wasn’t going to play a perfect game today. But it was all about trying to find the right intention to do today and I think it worked out okay.

"I’m actually excited to be in Rome. I haven’t been to Europe in forever."

Now ranked No. 70, the 40-year-old Williams needed a wild card to gain a spot in her 16th Rome main draw. Twenty-one years removed from her title run in Rome, Venus showed a strong appetite for the fight staging a first-set comeback.

Azarenka served for the set at 5-3, but sailed a forehand beyond the baseline as Williams broke back.

Forty-three minutes into the match, Williams reached back for a 110 mph serve down the middle saving a set point. Hammering another serve winner, Williams held to level after 10 games.

Gaining break point in the 11th game, Williams lined up a forehand but crashed it into the top of the tape.

Resetting, Williams rifled a clean forehand return winner for a second break point blasting a backhand down the line breaking again for 6-5.

Closure was complicated. Seeing Azarenka creep closer to return a second serve, Williams double faulted to give back the break and set up the tiebreaker.

Azarenka intensified her assault on her opponent’s second serve smacking deep returns down the line. The ability to move up and back on the baseline as well as mentally prepare for longer rallies are among the adaptations Azarenka makes in this quick transition to clay.

"On hard court I’m pretty comfortable with staying and hugging the baseline and taking everything early," Azarenka said. "And I think you have to be a little bit more adaptive on clay where sometimes you need to move back and have that transition. A little bit more longer rallies the building of the point has to be more constructive so movement definitely. The sliding and being able to cut angles.

"On hard court I can just stop even though I slide sometimes. On clay there is not really ability to stop so you have an extra movement. Mentally, I believe there is more an adaptation: the rally may be longer and some of the balls may not bounce as well on hard courts."

The sharp edge came off Williams’ game a bit in the second. She botched a relatively routine forehand volley to gift the break and a 4-1 second-set lead to the Belarusian.

Still, the competitive intensity was crackling. Williams staved off multiple break points during a nine-deuce game before Azarenka finally broke ending an 11-minute game with a one-set, 5-2 lead.


Resetting, Williams rifled a clean forehand return winner for a second break point blasting a backhand down the line breaking again for 6-5.

Seeing Azarenka creep closer to return a second serve, Williams double faulted to give back the break and set up the tiebreaker.

Three stinging strikes down the line from Azarenka put her ahead 5-2 in the tiebreaker.

No fans in the stands created clear acoustics, you could hear the Belarusian firing herself up between points yelling “Come on! Right here!”

Of course, Williams could hear it too and she responded with a four-point surge earning set point at 6-5.

Overshooting the baseline, the former No. 1 could not convert.

Hovering near the baseline, Azarenka refused to give up much ground grinding through crackling baseline exchanges and snatching a one-set lead when Williams missed successive flat forehands down the line long.

Azarenka intensified her assault on her opponent’s second serve smacking deep returns down the line. The three-time US Open finalist won 16 of 22 points played on Williams' second serve.

The sharp edge came off Williams’ game a bit in the second. She botched a relatively routine forehand volley to gift the break and a 4-1 second-set lead to the Belarusian.

Still, the competitive intensity was crackling. Williams staved off multiple break points during a nine-deuce game before Azarenka finally broke ending an 11-minute game with a one-set, 5-2 lead.

While Azarenka's greatest success, including 20 of 21 career titles, has come on hard court she has shined in Rome before reaching the 2013 final where she fell to Serena Williams.

The two-time Grand Slam champion closed exchanging a racquet tap and smiles with Williams at net.

Little time for celebration as Azarenka takes on her next major challenge in Kenin.

Qualifier Danka Kovinic won the final four games beating Belinda Bencic 6-3, 6-1.



The world No. 86 beat the sixth-seeded Swiss for the second time in as many meetings following her win at the 2015 Charleston. Kovinic will play Elise Mertens next.

The 11th-seeded Mertens, who lost to Azarenka in the US Open quarterfinals last week, dispatched Magda Linette 6-2, 6-4.


 

Latest News